NGOs Call for Disclosure of Anti-Graft Law

Officials with non-government organizations said yesterday that keeping the long-awaited draft law on anticorruption out of the public eye is at odds with the spirit of a law that should call for openness and transparency.

Though the Council of Ministers approved the draft law to combat corruption more than two weeks ago, the secrecy that surrounds the law makes it impossible to properly discuss and analyze, NGO workers said.

“I think the key approach is transparency,” said Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia.

Allowing the public access to the law now could help improve it through public debates and critique, Mr Panha said.

“I don’t know what the intent of keeping it secret is,” he added.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan reiterated yesterday that the draft law cannot be made public because it has yet to arrive at the National Assembly. Once it arrives at Parliament, it can then be released to the public.

“This is the proposed draft used internally for the government,” Mr Siphan said of the law, adding that he did not know when the draft would be forwarded to the As­sembly for debate and passage into law.

One of the only details of the anti-corruption law to have been made public on Friday is the fact that staff of NGOs are required to disclose their personal assets. Under the law, NGO workers are defined as public servants, and side-by-side with officials who are paid by government must disclose their assets.

“It is an obligation to do so, if you don’t do it, you are jailed,” Mr Siphan explained yesterday, adding that the law will take effect 60 days after being passed by the National Assembly.

Political observer and former head of the Center for Social Development Chea Vannath said following the spirit of the anti-corruption law, the legislation should be available for public viewing and inspection since it is that scrutiny which helps discourage and expose corruption. Keeping it confidential counters that principle, she said.

“If it is not transparent, it’s like you are fishing in the mud at nighttime,” Ms Vannath said.

“How can you comment on the law without having any copy of the law?” she asked. “It’s a strange process.”

“The word fighting corruption equals transparency, openness, access to information,” she added.

Soeung Saroeun, senior operations and finance manager of the Cooperation Committee of Cambodia, a professional organization of NGOs, said his group has requested a copy of the anticorruption legislation but like others has yet to see it. Having not yet seen the draft law, Mr Saroeun said the CCC could not comment. Nonetheless, he said questions remain about the draft law, particularly how it defined assets for NGO staffers.

“If we have to declare our assets, what do they mean by ‘assets’?” he asked.

NGO Forum Executive Director Chhith Sam Ath said he could not speak about the law until after reading it and consulting with other members in his umbrella group of non-governmental organization.

President of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights Ou Virak echoed remarks that discussing the draft law was challenging but he agreed that not only government officials should have to declare their assets.

Mr Virak said he had no problem listing NGO employees as “public servant” and recommended more groups should also have to declare their assets.

“It’s a very positive step in the right direction,” he said. “I personally welcome it.”

(Additional reporting by Christi Hang)


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